By Rikki King Herald Writer
OSO — The church got started about 110 years ago, when Oso was a railroad stop and lumber center.
Back then, the town had hotels and stores. Naturally, a church followed.
These days, about 80 people attend Sunday services at the Oso Community Chapel at 22318 Highway 530, in a building that once had a woodstove in the sanctuary.
Since the March 22 mudslide, the church has become a stop for rescue workers, and for anyone else who needs a place to grieve and to give.
“There was no gas station, no restaurant, no infrastructure,” the Rev. Gary Ray said. “They needed support, and we were providing that. We just made ourselves available.”
The church of about 2,000 square feet has no office. The listed phone number rings to the pastor’s cell phone.
Ray, 52, works at the church full time. His son, Ryan Ray, works part-time as the worship leader.
Gary Ray has received more than 1,300 phone calls — and hundreds of emails and text messages — since the hillside wiped out a neighborhood, left at least 36 dead and blocked Highway 530 between Arlington and Darrington.
The church already is planning for months of work in helping the area recover, Ray said.
The slide happened just as the Oso Community Chapel was getting ready to open another church and community center on Camano Island. The Camano church, which hasn’t been named yet, is at 788 Smith Road, just south of Highway 532. The first big events are planned for this weekend, with an egg hunt on Saturday and a brunch and service for Easter Sunday.
After the slide, the chapel staff had to draw back from Camano to focus their efforts on Oso, Ray said.
Other churches sent folks to keep work going at the five-acre, 6,000-square foot Camano site, with “helping hands from all over,” Ray said.
“It was very unexpected, just a few folks we know, but mostly folks we don’t know, who are going to come and be a part of that,” he said.
Other churches, including some from neighboring states, also are paying for a community memorial and tribute dinner planned for 5 p.m. April 26 at the Oso chapel.
Many of the memorial services and funerals for the victims have been private events. The memorial dinner is planned as a public way for people to share, Ray said.
“We’ll have speakers. We’ll have music,” he said. “It’s supposed to be light and positive and a time to thank all those who have been working so hard.”
Rescuers and neighbors helped one another in countless ways after the slide, he said. The church grounds were even used to load up livestock when the area was being evacuated.
After the mudslide, Ray’s wife, Tina, made a 5.5-foot cross out of rough-cut timber and wire. At least 200 people have stopped at the cross since.
“It’s a place where people coming through just pause and reflect,” Ray said.
An Arlington floral shop, Flowers by George, donated the first flowers to decorate the cross.
“The hope was people would come by and put in their own flowers as a tribute, and they have,” Ray said. “It’s a beautiful thing and a way for people to feel like they’re doing something — a way for them to show they care.”
The church also opened a small room with free Internet service. A “comfort center” was created where people could come vent or just have a quiet moment. They brought in clergy trained in crisis response.
When the historic Trafton School closed in 2010, the Oso Chapel agreed to rent the property from the school district and offer no-cost or low-cost community programs, Ray said.
The school has been used to store some of the donated goods for slide victims. Volunteers have been sorting and organizing the items, and building shelving to hold them. People have just stepped up since the slide, and found new ways to serve, Ray said.
Some people have been afraid to return to their homes near the slide area, Ray said. Others have lost their jobs or their businesses are closing because of the highway shut-down and the length of the detour around the slide through Skagit County.
As a pastor, Ray’s job is to encourage faith, no matter what, he said.
“I believe that all are here for a purpose, and that purpose is to love God and love others,” he said. “In my ministry work, I focus on making matters of faith interesting, understandable and practical. It is in times like these that character is developed, and by faith, hope is found.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To create a public service where people can grieve and give thanks, the Oso Community Chapel, at 22318 Highway 530, plans a dinner, prayer and memorial event at 5 p.m. April 26. People are asked to bring side dishes and desserts. More info: 360-862-3550.
New church opening
A new church is opening at 788 Smith Road, Camano Island, an offshoot of the Oso Community Chapel.
The first service is planned for Easter Sunday on April 20. Brunch will be at 11:30 a.m., with the service to follow.
There is also a community Easter Egg Hunt set for 10 a.m. April 19.
The Camano church has fields for youth sports, and free Internet access. Programs planned include a family-friendly community library, senior lunches, women’s fellowship and youth services.
The church is part of the Northwest Baptist Convention, but all are welcome.
People who are interested in getting involved should contact 360-862-3550 or CamanoChurch@gmail.com.